Weight Management and Children
Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. As recently as a few decades ago, not many children were overweight. In the 1960’s, one in every twenty-four children ages 6 to 11 years old was considered overweight. Over the last 30 years, the percentage of children who are overweight has more than tripled.1
How to Determine a Healthy Weight
In adults, weight and height provide a good indication of whether someone is overweight or obese. In children, age, sex, height, weight, puberty and growth patterns must be considered. Healthcare professionals use these factors to determine a child’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s BMI calculator to determine your child or teen’s BMI.
Overweight status can also be evaluated by measuring skin-fold thickness on a triceps muscle or under the shoulder blade. Excess weight can also be measured by examining risk factors for heart disease. These may include elevated blood pressure, elevated total cholesterol levels and imbalances in the relative levels of proteins in the blood stream that transport fats and cholesterol.
Causes of Pediatric Weight Problems
Genetic, biological, behavioral and cultural factors can all contribute to a child becoming overweight. Lifestyle factors, like eating high calorie foods and getting little exercise, are variable.3 If one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance that children born into the family will be predisposed to being overweight. The obesity risk to children increases to an 80% likelihood when both parents are obese.1
The factors below can contribute to weight gain:
- Eating unhealthy foods (high sugar, high fat, high calorie)
- Eating too much food
- Not getting enough exercise
- Sedentary behavior (lack of physical activity)
- Socio-economic issues (low family income and non-working parents)
- Family history of obesity
- Medical illness (less than 1% of obesity is due to illness)
- Certain medications (steroids)
- Environmental factors (too much fast-food, lack of recreation)
- Family problems, stressful life events or changes (divorce, moving, death)
- Problems with peers (rejection, teasing)
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling depressed or anxious
Help for an Overweight Child
If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits and/or weight, talk to your child’s doctor. Do not put your child on a weight loss diet unless your doctor advises you to do so. Get the whole family involved in making gradual changes that will lead to living a healthier lifestyle. Do not single out a child who is overweight. Making a big deal out of weight and eating habits may interfere with a child’s growth or lead to a preoccupation with food and weight gain6. Leading by example will help children learn to make healthier food and exercise choices that will serve them well into adulthood. Self-help programs, like Fit and Healthy Kids, can help support and guide children in developing healthier habits. The road to good health is made up of a series of lifestyle choices and decisions. Achieving a healthy weight is one that should be encouraged, and nurtured. Accepting and loving a child at any weight or fitness level is important to promoting healthy self-esteem.
1American Academy of Pediatrics; Committee on Nutrition. (2003). Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity: Policy Statement. Pediatrics, 112(2), 424-430. Accessed on April 1, 2006.
2American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families: Obesity in Children and Teens (no. 79). Accessed on April 1, 2006.
3Centers for Disease Control. Department of Health and Human Services. (2002). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: Overweight Among U.S. Children and Adolescents. Accessed on April 1, 2006.